Maria Jelescu Dreyfus is CEO and founder of Ardinall Investment Management, which is an investment firm that works in “sustainable investing and resilient infrastructure.” Photo via ExxonMobil

An energy transition expert and investor has joined Houston-headquartered ExxonMobil Corp.’s board of directors.

Maria Jelescu Dreyfus is CEO and founder of Ardinall Investment Management, which is an investment firm that works in “sustainable investing and resilient infrastructure.”

She previously spent 15 years at Goldman Sachs as a portfolio manager and managing director in the Goldman Sachs Investment Partners Group that focused on energy, industrials, transportation and infrastructure investments across the capital structure.

She currently serves as a director on the board of Cadiz Inc. and on the board of CDPQ. She also works in the energy transition space as a director on several companies' boards.

“We welcome Maria to the ExxonMobil Board as the company executes its strategy to grow shareholder value by playing a critical role in a lower-emissions future, even as we continue to provide the reliable energy and products the world needs,” Joseph Hooley, lead independent director for Exxon Mobil Corporation, says in a news release. “Her deep financial background combined with her extensive work in sustainability will complement our Board’s existing skill set.”

Dreyfus is the vice chair of the advisory board of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, and serves as co-chair of its Women in Energy program.

“With the close of our Pioneer merger, we gained a premier, tier-one Permian asset, exceptional talent and a new Board member who brings keen strategic insight,” says ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Darren Woods in the release. “Our boardroom, shareholders and stakeholders will greatly benefit from Maria’s experience.”

By understanding the barriers they encounter, leaders, managers, and recruiters can implement targeted strategies to create more inclusive and diverse work environments. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert analyzes women's role, challenges in the energy industry

guest column

The Women in Energy Global Study is an annual guide that delivers insights on how to retain female talent in a challenging world. It’s a critical roadmap for business leaders, managers, recruiters, and diversity and inclusion professionals to what women want, need, and can offer in the global energy workplace.

The report dives into the data to reveal the nature and aspirations of the female energy workforce. It explores the kids of jobs women are doing and the level of seniority that they are reaching, the career issues they face, what motivates them to contribute their skills to the energy transition and what they need to truly thrive.

The energy transition was a strong thread running through this year’s global survey with a commitment to Net Zero being the stand-out factor that attracts women to a company. Respondents came from an even greater variety of sectors and roles both within and outside the energy industry, reflecting the growing richness and complexity of energy today and the exciting new opportunities it offers.

This year's results showed that oil and gas is the largest employer of women, followed by renewables, and most respondents have reached middle-management level in their career. However, there are still more women than men at the bottom and more men at the top. Women are more likely to be in project management, while men are more likely to be in engineering, and only 6 percent of field services roles are held by women.

Work-life interface and flexibility

Employers appear to be rolling back some of the flexible working policies introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic yet offering options for where and when work is an important value proposition for any company wanting to attract and retain talent.

The good news is that most men and women feel they now have a good work life balance, a positive shift from last year when most said they didn't. Women said that better flexible working would make the most difference to work-life balance.

Attracting and developing diverse talent and helping women thrive

Companies’ commitment to DEI appears to be declining, a reversal in trend from previous years. If this is more than just lack of visibility of what has become "business as usual," then organizations need to remember that better DEI leads to better business performance and it is critical to communicate efforts in this area.

Key things women want from their employer are better professional development, sponsorship and mentoring, flexible working and the opportunity for job-share or part-time working, but there appears to be delivery gap between availability of policies and their uptake.

The demand for good paternity leave is huge among men – more than half said they wanted to see it introduced or improved – and this could be a gamechanger for both sexes. Additionally, a strong commitment to net zero still makes a company more attractive to both women and men. Other key factors for women when choosing their employer are an inclusive workplace culture, benefits and a commitment to DEI.

Time to pave the way

When we amplify the voices of women in the global energy market, we not only bring attention to the challenges they face but also highlight the vast potential they hold. By understanding the barriers they encounter, leaders, managers, and recruiters can implement targeted strategies to create more inclusive and diverse work environments. This not only benefits women in the industry but also fosters innovation and drives growth in our ever-evolving energy sector. As we pave the way for more opportunities and empowerment for women in energy, we are shaping a brighter and more sustainable future for all.

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Jayne Stewart is vice president of oil, gas and chemicals across the Gulf Coast region in the U.S. for NES Fircroft. She is based in Houston.

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Houston's energy industry deemed both a strength and weakness on global cities report

mixed reviews

A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

“And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

New collaboration to build data center microgrid in Houston

coming soon

Two companies are teaming up to build a natural gas microgrid in Houston that will reduce emissions by 98 percent.

Provider of prime and backup power solutions RPower has teamed up with Houston’s ViVaVerse Solutions to build a 17-megawatt (MW) microgrid at the ViVa Center campus in Houston, which is expected to be commissioned by the end of the year.

The microgrid plans to employ ultra-low emissions and natural gas generators to deliver Resiliency-as-a-Service (RaaS), and this will connect to ViVaVerse's colocation data center operations during utility outages.

RPower will also deploy the microgrid across different ERCOT market programs, which will contribute to assist with essential capacity and ancillary services for the local grid. ERCOT has increased its use of renewable energy in recent years, but still has faced criticism for unstable conditions. The microgrids can potentially assist ERCOT, and also help cut back on emissions.

“RPower's pioneering microgrid will not only deliver essential N+1 resiliency to our data center operations but will also contribute to the local community by supplying necessary capacity during peak demand periods when the electric grid is strained,” Eduardo Morales, CEO of ViVaVerse Solutions and Morales Capital Group, says in a news release.

ViVaVerse Solutions will be converting the former Compaq Computer/HPE headquarters Campus into an innovative technology hub called the ViVa Center, which will host the High-Performance Computing Data Center, and spaces dedicated to mission critical infrastructure and technical facilities . The hub will host 200 data labs.

“We are thrilled to partner with ViVaVerse to deploy this `first of its kind' microgrid solution in the data center space,” Jeff Starcher, CEO of RPower, adds. “Our natural gas backup generation system delivers the same reliability and performance as traditional diesel systems, but with a 98 percent reduction in emissions. Further, the RPower system provides critical grid services and will respond to the volatility of renewable generation, further enabling the energy transition to a carbon free future.”